Pop Culture Princess

Pop Culture Princess
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Monday, February 29, 2016

My Year With Hemingway sets sail for The Old Man and The Sea

Having started this Year With Hemingway project off by reading one of his first major books, it only seemed fitting that my next selection would tackle one of his later titles, particularly the one that earned him a Nobel Prize.

The Old Man and the Sea also won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction a year after it's initial release and it's still assigned reading for most high school students. Part of the reason for that may be due to it's page count(short classics are popular required reading there) but mainly for it's seemingly simple prose.

The tale of Santiago(who is referred to for the majority of the book as "the old man"), a fisherman with a bad string of luck who faces the challenge of his life alone on open waters, is pretty much a straightforward narrative. However, there's a Zen like quality to the writing and this central character that showcases the true complexity of Hemingway's style.

Santiago is a man seemingly content with what little he does have; his boat and equipment along with a small house with a bed lined with newspapers, plus the occasional company of Manolin, his former fishing student.

The most he hopes for in life is to see how well his favorite baseball player Joe DiMaggio is doing and to break his unlucky streak of  coming back from his fishing with nothing to show for it. Even though Manolin is forced by economic necessity to work on a "lucky" boat , the old man is happy to see the boy leave his side, thanks to the skills that he taught him.

Yet when he snags a huge fish that fights long and hard to escape him, Santiago doesn't hesitate in giving his all to that battle. Sure, at some point it would have been sensible to just cut and run, big fish or not but the old man's true goal is not merely to change his luck or show off a big prize to his fellow fishermen.

What he ultimately gains from all of his grit and determination is a revitalized sense of self. Using what little he has on board and even losing or breaking the few tools at his disposal, Santiago proves mainly to himself that his inner core as a man is still intact. His hands may be aching,along with his back, but his spirit for life is as strong as it ever was.

You could see this as sort of a midlife crisis story, especially since many readers look upon TOMATS as Hemingway's commentary on old age, but I think it's more than than. The Old Man and The Sea shows us that it's ultimately about the journey rather than the destination that makes life, even with all of it's hardships, so worth while:

I've also been reading Paula Huntley's The Hemingway Book Club of Kosovo, a memoir of her time in that country along side her husband in the year 2000. He went over to use his legal skills to help bring a proper judicial system to that war torn country and Paula became a teacher of English, helping a set of determined young people try to better their situation via education.

The book club of the title uses The Old Man and The Sea, with the lone edition that Huntley found in an English language book store being copied enough for her entire class to read. While I have finished TOMATS, I'm still almost half way with this story and it's quite a moving one.

Huntley encounters many all too true stories of violence and destruction from the prior regime, which serves to make her more determined to do what she can for her students, who find Hemingway's story rather relevant to their lives. One of the critiques of this book that I saw frequently online was that there was more focus on the horrors of Kosovo and not enough about Hemingway. While I can see what some of those complaints mean, I don't think they're getting the point.

 Ernest Hemingway was also a journalist who covered many international battle fields and war zones, even serving in both world wars and being a reporter on the ground during the Spanish Civil War. Kosovo during this time period(and possibly even now) is the exact sort of turbulent situation that Hemingway would've been at himself, so in that sense, this entire book is in the spirit of his writing:

Having completed The Old Man and The Sea, my next book to read for this project is Mrs. Hemingway by Naomi Wood, a novel that gives each of Hemingway's four wives a spotlight for her to shine in.

I'll be pairing that review with a write-up of the 2012 made for HBO film Hemingway and Gellhorn, which stars Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman as Ernest Hemingway and wife number three, Martha Gellhorn. She was a journalist who met him while they were both covering the Spanish Civil War and For Whom The Bell Tolls is dedicated to her.

I can see Clive Owen quite easily as Hemingway and Gellhorn sounds like quite a woman, so that ought to be engagingly fun.  In the mean time, just as I did with The Sun Also Rises, I've chosen a theme song for The Old Man and The Sea and, no, it's not "Sitting on the Dock(Of The Bay)", much to my own surprise.

Since Santiago has reoccurring dreams about lions in Africa, I went with Toto's ode to that country. Sounds strange but hear me out: while a sea faring song seems like the obvious choice, "Sitting on The Dock" is much too passive and easy going to suit the true nature of the book. The Toto tune expresses the joy of pursuing your dreams and going after your heart's desire way better. Give it a listen and think of Santiago as you do so-he does miss the rains down in" Africa" there, don't you think?:

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